Thoughts, stories and events to share

Beyond Borders

Eleanor De, about 6 years ago

Hand Made With Pride is a small initiative in the Tasmania Prison Service Mary Hutchinson Women's Prison in Hobart, Australia. The women create quality textiles and tailored hand-made products which provide a way of 'giving back' to the community because they are tailored to serve particular purposes for some of the most vulnerable people in the community. This includes cot pillows and mattress covers for premature babies, head scarves for cancer patients and breast pillow for women with breast cancer and artistic quilts to be displayed in prisoner art exhibitions.

A key element of the programme is choice. The participants opt-in to the scheme and created the name themselves, using the acronym of the Mary Hutchinson Women's Prison, as well as their own logo which is added to all the items they produce and give to people in the community. This sense of ownership and autonomy has driven the programme and it is has been very successful. Steve Graham, a Reintegration and Transition Consultant at Tasmania Prison Service, explained how, at the beginning, “the only thing we had was human capital, the women's skills and attributes. Once we found a space ,the women painted and arranged the room. They were stakeholders from the beginning. They were involved in the design of how it was going to be set up".

Originally starting with one small room and 1 sewing machine, the programme expanded within its first year to 12 sewing machines and 3 industrial machines and it is receiving crafts materials donated by members of the public and community groups. In the year 2015-2016 over 550 items were made. Moreover, educators from the local training institute come in to teach the women who are also studying for qualifications so the prisoners can gain certificates in applied fashion design and technology. One of the practitioners explained how the project had a significant impact on one particular prisoner:

“In the past, she had always been told she was useless by other people in her life. In this initiative, she is skilled…For her, there is something in it that relates to identity."

Most recently, the prisoners designed and produced portable bedding for homeless people in Queensland which are suited to the local climate. In this way, Hand Made With Pride provides a way of equipping prisoners with skills whilst helping them feel part of a community again or, perhaps, for the first time.

“Respect was at the core of this project. Respect for the women and their stories, respect for the system and the guards and management and all the work they were doing every day to help rehabilitate women inside the prison. All we did really was let the idea out of the bag, let it ignite and guide it through to its new custodians." - Team member Sue Robertson.